KIRO Radio's Luke Burbank is among the hard core basketball fans who can't wait for the NBA to return to Seattle. But even though there's been plenty of excitement the past week as word of a potential sale of the Sacramento Kings swirled, some new research says the city might not be nearly as much of a basketball hotbed as rabid fans like Luke believe.
Seattle Times researcher Gene Balk did some digging into the numbers and found people in Seattle have some of the lowest interest in the NBA among a number of major metro areas.
In an interview with the Luke Burbank Show, Balk says he found only 4.1 percent of people in the area expressed a "very high" level of interest in the NBA, with only Harrisburg, PA and Green Bay, WI being the only metro areas having less interest. That ranks us 75th in NBA interest nationwide, slightly lower than even Spokane.
The numbers were taken from surveys done in 2011 and 2012 after the Sonics left for Oklahoma City. But Balk says they definitely raise questions about how much fans here are actually interested in the NBA.
"What surprised me was just the degree to which it dropped and that's why I thought there was an interesting story there," he says.
Perhaps more surprising were the numbers even before the Sonics left town. You'd figure there would be a huge number of fans for the team and the NBA after all those years, but Balk says that wasn't the case.
"Relatively, it was still below the national average even with the team here," he says. "The percentage of people in this market who said they were very interested in the NBA ranged from about 6 percent to a high of a little under 9 percent, and the average nationally is about 10 percent year after year."
Balk says it's clear fan support is higher when the team is doing well. When the Sonics made the playoffs in 2005, fan interest spiked at 8.9 percent saying they were "very interested." But even then, he found our market still only ranked 27th when it came to the highest level of interest in the NBA. By comparison, he found nearly a third of the population in San Antonio expressed the highest level of interest in that period.
While he's confident landing a new team will rejuvenate NBA fan interest, he says the numbers show the NBA's return isn't necessarily a slam dunk.